Tick-borne diseases in Zimbabwe: Theileriosis (January Disease)

In today’s instalment, we  continue our series on ticks and tick-borne diseases in Zimbabwe. We have established that ticks are of economic importance in livestock production: meaning that farmers stand to lose money if they do not control these external parasites. The major reason why ticks are of economic importance is because they transmit tick-borne diseases, such as Theileriosis (January Disease), Anaplasmosis (Gall Sickness), Babesiosis (Red Water) and Cowdriosis (Heart Water).

Since 2017, there has been an unprecedented cattle deaths from Theileriosis in Zimbabwe. This could be attributed to a number of reasons. The first one pertains to the breakdown in the government supported dipping regime that has been in place since colonial times. The Department of Vet Services has been struggling to provide the dip chemical to support the communal dipping. 

The next issue pertains to the breakdown in the strict cattle movement restrictions. This happened around the time of the land reform programme. The consequence of that could be the translocation of the brown ear tick to different parts of the country, hence the spread of the disease to other areas where traditionally it was absent.

Furthermore, it could certainly be conceivable that there could be some changes or mutations to the pathogenic character of the Theileria protozoa which has made it more virulent. Students of animal history in Zimbabwe would testify to the devastating virulence of the East Coast Fever (a related disease) which was eradicated in 1954. Could this be the same disease? This is certainly a question for veterinary pathologists and epidemiologists; and it is certainly pertinent, given the circumstances.

Getting back to the present question, farmers would ask: what do we do? How do we treat the disease? How do we control it? What are the policy questions raised by this  problem? These questions will be tackled in the next article.

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